April 24-25, 2010

What a difference a weekend makes. Heading into the SCCA Double National hosted by Cal Club Region at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in Buttonwillow, Ca., the SportsCar staff had one goal: finish. That may not be flashy, but to get an SCCA National Championship Runoffs invitation, you have to complete four National races. Entering this weekend, SportsCar’s Associate Editor Jason Isley had three races logged in the magazine’s H Production Toyota Yaris, and Editor Philip Royle had two finishes in the Showroom Stock C Nissan Sentra.

As usual, the Yaris attracted attention from the moment we rolled into the track. Sporting its new, Dan Gurney- inspired Toyota Eagle graphics, the car was a looker.

Saturday’s qualifying session found Isley starting second in HP with Royle third in SSC. When the green flag dropped on the 34 car field, both Isley and Royle, along with a number of other cars, found themselves trapped behind an American Sedan car. After a couple of laps and many attempts, Royle made the pass stick, and he set to running down Ali Naimi and Brian Husting, who were running first and second in SSC. Unfortunately, Naimi and Husting had managed an insurmountable lead, so Royle maintained the gap between himself and fourth place SSC competitor Carl Young and brought home a third place finish.

For Isley, Saturday’s race would come to an end three laps in when a mechanical failure caused the Yaris to make contact with a tire barrier. The front of the Yaris was damaged, although most of it is easily repairable. Isley reported that when he made contact with the tire barrier, he felt his Hutchens Hybrid Pro head and neck restraint work, limiting the forward movement of his HJC helmet during the impact.

With one car now in need of repair, Sunday’s race plan was to take it easy in the Nissan – qualify for the Runoffs then get to work repairing the Yaris for the next National race. However, Husting was struggling with transmission problems, and as soon as the green flag flew, Royle saw an opening and went for it. After a few laps of hounding Husting, Royle made the pass for second and set to pounding down solid laps, hoping first place Naimi would misstep. Three laps in, Husting and Young tangled in the esses while battling for third, and Young’s car flipped, coming to rest on its side. A full course caution bunched the pack. After the restart, Royle kept Naimi in his sights, but Naimi maintained the lead to the checker. Royle’s second place finish continued the SSC Nissan’s record of never finishing off the podium.

We learned many things from this race weekend. First and foremost, safety equipment should not be taken lightly – even when your goal is simply to log a finish, you never know what will happen. For the Sentra, the BFGoodrich R1 tires worked great in 80 degree F heat. They were consistent, with only minor fade by the end of the races. The Hawk DTC-70 brake pads performed admirably and are undoubtedly the correct compound, but on a 3,100 pound car, the life of the pads is limited to two or three races.

With the close of this weekend, Royle locked in his Runoffs invitation. Isley, however, will be heading to another SCCA National to cement not only his Runoffs invite, but also hopefully a Southern Pacific Division HP points championship.

And finally, we’d like to thank the Team Honda Research crew for their help at the track – without their assistance, the Nissan’s weekend would have been a struggle. Also, we’d like to thank John Coffey for his assistance with the Yaris, as well as the kindness of strangers who helped push the Yaris onto the trailer on Saturday evening. We’d also like to offer a massive thank you to the Cal Club Region workers and safety crew for their excellent help rescuing not only our Yaris, but also the suddenly stranded Isley.

Highlight video from the Sentra.